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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A few things, Arlen Spector, Econtalk

So I was stunned to hear that Arlen Spector was changing parties. I mean, Arlen, pardon if I refer to him in the familiar sense, has always been a moderate, and has always caved to the more rigorous party domination of the Republicans. So considering the disarray of the Republican party at the moment, the fights for dominance, the extremist influence, it should come as a matter of course that long time dissidents are defecting. I'd like to see Chuck Hagel and Charles Grassley make the jump too. How crazy would that be? Hagel votes with the Dems half the time anyway--to be fair I haven't looked at his voting record--that's my memory of some of the more important votes of the last term. It makes me wonder if there will be a few more defections. Honestly, I think this is the death knell for the extremists in the party. As they watch themselves get more and more relegated to the outskirts, some bright bulb will eventually manage to rein them in a bit more center. I don't know how Arlen will vote, really, I'm familiar with his work on the judiciary committee, and though he was wishywashy, he was never a chest thumping, bravado spewing Republathug. Regardless, I wonder if Rahm, the Machine, Emmanual had anything to do with it. He's got bigger fish to fry now, it's true, but this was part of his old job for sure.

Econ Talk. Man this program pisses me off sometimes. I know I'm no economist, and am not doing as well as I'd like to in Accounting, but the policies and the history that they espouse seem totally wrong. So I guess traditional economists are now viewing themselves as Libertarians. I have to give the party props, they and the greens manage to keep themselves alive in a two party system through sheer effort of will. But the Libertarians have this idea that freedom is a virtue so indelible that to stymie it in anyway spells the doom of society at large. To the good folk at Econtalk, the economy melt down of 2008 occurred not because of a lack of regulation but because of a plethora of bad regulation. Well, how different is that from me saying it wasn't bad regulation, it was de-regulation. We're talking about the same acts, the same bills afterall--the repeal of Glass-Steagal, SOX and the PSLRA. It's all a question of perspective, and from my perspective, the idea that perfect freedom creates perfect society is an idiot's paradise. The freedom to let the bigger fish eat the little fish, and vice versa still ends with a whole lot of fish getting eaten. Maybe that's nature, and maybe that has to happen to some extent. But the purpose, to me, of liberalism is to provide a social safety net. Because it's kind, because it's the right thing to do. And if that brings the whole society a few notches, so what? What is the bar? What are we being measured by? Our success? How would you even measure that, in terms of money? Not only would that be inaccurate, it would be dishonest. No. I think we are measured by our humanity. By the capacity within all of us to sacrifice some good for our common man. And that comes with a recognition that none of us are perfect. My GF hates that I don't volunteer or donate my time to anyone. She's right, she's a better person than I am. But, I'd like to think that at least my heart's in the right place.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Put a Ring On It

So you'd have to be living under a rock to not have heard the song, it's playing everywhere. I don't care for it. It's got a catchy beat, and the video is pretty hot. But it irks me. A) It's like one chord. Hip Hop is repetitive, but seriously? Get a chord transition somewhere. B) I hate the message. And this is what this post is about. I wondered if it might not be offensive to a woman, say, a feminist, so I asked the G-to-the-F. To my surprise, she said she thought it was empowering.

Go fig. So, I guess the reason, as close as I understand, and we speak a different language, is that it's a good angry woman song about not being appreciated by a/her man. And no, we're not married. I get that read on it, but I can't help but think there is a lot more here. I mean, "put a ring on it" means marriage. That's all it means. People get married for lots of reasons, and though appreciation ranks fairly high on the list, it is NOT a given. So to my highly trained and logical mind (yes that was a joke), I see that she's actually angry she's not married. Appreciation, to her, her writers, her audience, means committment to a legal protection. That's fine, because it's an important protection. But to me, the larger issue is that this song could have been made popular, sans scantily clad dancers, in the 50s, like Doris Day's "A Guy is a Guy." A time only a decade after women attained the vote. If I were a mother, I'd be furious that this song, and others like it, are promoting the idea that the only way a woman can attain self-respect, and by association, the respect of her peers, is by getting married. Marriage is not the endpoint ladies, it's a waystation along the path. More important than say, losing your babyteeth, but as important as say, getting your highschool diploma, graduating from college, having a career. What I fear is that Beyonce, arguing from her station on high--who has already achieved a career, mega stardom, universal worship, ascendency-to borrow a word from my favorite new fantasy series. For her, marriage probably is the final piece of the puzzle. But she's not singing to her fellow popstars. She's singing to all the single ladies. All the single ladies? All the single ladies. ALL the single ladies? Why yes, ALL the single ladies. That's not just thirty-forty-and twenty somethings. That's right down to the age of 13. Lower really, we just had bring your kids to work day, and all the 8 year old girls were gushing about their boyfriends.
How's that for feminism. Look, it's fine for some people. But there has to be a role model out there for girls who want more than that. And she can't be Janet Neopolitano, who conservatives called a dyke since she's in her forties and not married. The conservative feminism backlash hit my generation pretty hard. But, I'm not sure why. I mean, all of the girls I've heard talk about this came from families where the woman had a career and a husband, not just the career. It's the fear of spinsterhood that's driving this ludicrous reemergence of 50s gender roles.
I just had a thought that may shed some light on my own confusion. Note that there is no accompanying theme of women going back to the home resurfacing. So it's not the traditional marriage, although I do occasionally hear women say they never want to have to work again. Ha Ha. So what is marriage to women of the new century? It doesn't mean any of the things it used to, no sexual enslavement--although not providing sex to her husband is still grounds for divorce in many states. It doesn't mean domestic enslavement anymore, there is a ton of popular evidence to suggest that men have assumed an equal burden in the raising of a child, as well as the keeping of a house. It still means STATUS which is purely unfortunate. But I can now understand the argument advanced by the g'f. What's left? Committment/appreciation. Well, ok then. I guess it makes sense. I think it's a bit naive, because I think domestic enslavement still exists, and I hate that women's social status should depend on whether or not a man has engaged in a legal agreement with her. But I guess that I get the argument. But riddle me this, o ladies, why don't men need such a thing? We like to feel appreciated, we like to feel committed to...I'm looking for honest answers here. So no glib responses.
This will probably be the only time that Beyonce is a label for a blog of mine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Janet Napolitano v Canada

My Canadian family recently pointed me to the latest outrage up north. The article states that Napolitano admonished Canada for lax border security, and propagated the myth that the 911 attackers came through Canada. First, this is absolutely not true. The September 11th Commission established that every single attacker came through American airports with American papers. Secondly, and this is what gets me, Canadians don't have to show ID to leave their country. I drive over that border ALL the time, Canada checks me when I enter, the US checks me when I come home. How nonsensical is this woman?

My reading seems to indicate that the woman at the very least, knows it's not true. But this sort of carelessness is Bush league. Very very disappointing. I did some research on the lady, and she has a decent track record--but no one just steps over the border from Canada to the US. There are border controls along every route. America should take responsibility for its own borders not scape-goat the nations that we depend on for trade and good will. Insert foot in mouth Janet. I hate the Department of Homeland Security. Fuck this homeland bull shit. Sounds like the Fatherland. It's my country, it's the place where I live, I have a home in it, and when I'm traveling abroad, I say I'm American--but that's where it stops. I haven't had a sense of pride in my nation since I was 11. And I think the bureaucratic nonsense of having every department roll up under one guy was a huge Bush misstep. So what if separate agencies conflicted. They're still conflicted.

In her defense there does seem to be a bit of confusion here. The article states:

Canada is allowing people into our country that we do not allow into ours."
She made the comments hot on the heels of another contentious remark she made,
where she mistakenly suggested that the 9-11 terrorists entered the U.S. through

However, in the same article, it has the Canadian minister of public safety saying:

"Ms. Napolitano understood quite clearly, then and now, that none of the September 11 terrorists came through Canada, as the 9-11 Commission found."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

I finished this wonderful biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt last week. I wept piteously, multiple times throughout. FDR's policy choices not withstanding, the courage of a man who contracted such an awful disease and still managed to make himself the greatest American in history is nothing less than breathtaking. One of my favorite scenes comes when FDR wins his first primary, just after he had made known that he was getting over his sickness, and made his slow, tortured way to the podium. As he gets up the stairs, by himself on a crutch and with the help of his son, the crowd begins to go absolutely wild. And these were party members in the audience--men who had voted for other men in the primary no less! A cynic might say that the moment was staged, and there is no doubt that FDR had a talent for high-drama--but so what? A politician is more than just a public servant, he is the imbodiment of hope in troubled times--as I've recently learned this past November. Polio was incredibly hard, very little was known about it, and FDR's efforts themselves helped bring the study of polio into the modern era. And of course, his last final moments. The man literally worked himself to death. The man made even Stalin pause. Churchill worshipped him. Funny that no movie has ever been made of his life--not the war, though it is certainly a part of it. I wonder if his estate has some strict rules on what sort of representations are allowed of him--or maybe it's mutual respect for the man's life and privacy. Anyway, what follows is some quotations from speeches:

June 27th, 1936, Philadelphia

Liberty requires opportunity to make a living--a living which gives man not only
enough to live by, but something to live for. For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor--other people's lives. These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constituition. ... There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is asked. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.

October 31, 1936, New York

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing,
do-nothing Government. The nation looked to Government but Government
looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years
with the scourge! Nine mocking years at the ticker and three long years in
the bread-lines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair!

November 1935, Warm Springs

You cannot borrow your way out of debt, but you can invest your way into a
sounder future... Over three years ago, realizing that we were not doing a
perfect thing but that we were doing a necessary thing, we appropriated
money for direct relief. But just as quickly as possible we turned to the job of
providing actual work for those in need. I realize that gentlemen in well-warmed and well-stocked clubs will discourse on the expenses of Government and the suffering that they are going through because their Government is spending money on work relief. Some of these same gentlemen tell me that a dole would be more economical than work relief. That is true. but the men who tell me that have, unfortunately, too little contact with the true America to realise that...most Americans want to give something for what they get. That something, which in this case is honest work, is the saving barrier between them and moral degradation. I propose to build that barrier high and keep it high.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Geithner's Great Claim to Fame

Having read Jimmy Cayne's awful tirade against Geithner, in Cohan's "House of Cards," I'm actually starting to appreciate Tim Geithner. First off, my dislike was spawned when listening to the Bear Stearns hearing before Chris Dodd and the Senate Banking Committee. I felt that Geithner was avoiding the questions, and perhaps, was even hiding details of the deal. Having learned a bit more about him now, it occurs to me that the man is a bureaucrat. My one-and-only made that point to me first, I think after she read a piece in New York Magazine. Bureaucrats can be many things, often lazy, slow, imprecise, lacking in ambition, even susceptible to bribes. However, a bureaucrat's job is based on maintaining stability, based on adhering, creating, and refining the rules. And at a salary of a cool half a mill, it's not like Geithner would have been taking cash bribes.

Anyway, here's the point: Obama was right. We needed a bureaucrat, and he gave us one. The markets have effectively stabilized. There is worse news coming, maybe, but the fact of the matter is the Dow is for the first time in years pretty fairly valued. So, I still disagree with the idea of the Obama economy as dialing back time to go on as things were in 2005--I'm a Krugmanite on that score.

One last point about our man Geithner. I think it's dreadfully apparent that the man has no bedside manner. He spoke to Congress like he was hedging--not, I suspect, because he was intentionally misleading, but because he is not a very good public speaker. And not like George Bush--Geithner is by all reports extremely intelligent. I think he must be the quiet nerdy guy who stutters when he has to speak in public. He's no CEO, hired to praise and maneuver the company, however we'll see where he ends up after Treasury. Maybe, in that big head of his, he's trying to explain how derivatives work to Chris Dodd, and he can't spinoff all the equations, and the tiers, and the models into a cohesive narrative soundbite. He's not a financial reporter, or a CEO, or even a CFO. He's a beaurocrat. One thing that ticked me off, was his sneering attitude to Chris Dodd at the hearing. And now it makes sense. Bureaucrats are the guys who are always there: politicians come and go, but the body remains the same. Politicians spout and get incandescent with rage for the camera, but bureaucrats persist. And that's why Jimmy Cayne hates the man so much, calls him a clerk. That may be Geithner's greatest claim to fame. Jimmy Cayne, the pot smoking, bridgeplaying, scrapmetal salesman with no education, who brought down the 85 year old investment firm--that survived the Great Depression, hates Tim Geithner. I can't think of a higher accolade.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wall Street Journal Podcast

Trying to broaden my horizons here. I sometimes listen to the WSJ daily podcast. I figured that it would focus on corporate news, but it seems so far to be a ripoff of the Fox News Channel. A couple of observations

1) When searching for a link to the podcast to show you here, I could not find the podcast that I listen to with Gordan Deal (an idiot) and Gina Cervetti (long-suffering second fiddle). My apologies for any mispellings, I couldn't be bothered to look them up. They remind me of Tom Tucker (an idiot) and Diane Simmons (long-suffering second fiddle)from the Family Guy. I find it odd that this was the WSJ podcast shortlisted by the iTunes website, when there are so many others of substance.

2) Gordan Deal is really bad for this, he keeps on trying to slant the news in traditional WSJ conservative bent. I don't have a problem with this, although he just doesn't come off as very bright or convincing. Sorry Gordo, I'm sure you're a nice enough guy, but you need to find your own voice.

3) Despite this, and despite fierce Republican opposition to everything Obama, every single economist that the dream team has interviewed basically agrees that the government is taking the right steps. Gordo keeps asking questions like, "won't all that spending mess up the economy years from now?" and they keep answering, "well...maybe...the point is that we need to stabilize the markets now...." well duh.
4) Can we substitute Kate Kelly for Gordan Deal? Kate, I know you're investigative journalist and don't have the time for this crap, but that punim was made for TV. I watched that WSJ financial crisis video four times to catch a glimpse. Well, actually I didn't, but it stalled my machine four times, so I had to reload that often. I'd have posted a photo, but there are only crap photos of the lady out there.
5) So I just read how Jimmy Cayne, that prick, called KK a you know what, but starts with a C, ends with a T, and rhymes with punt. Jimmy, don't you talk shit about KK, I'll bring you down. Oh wait. Oh, awkward. Sorry. Yeah. I wonder if even your bridge buddies still play with you, you jackass. KK you have my support.